For three quarters Sunday, the Lynx were struggling to make shots. And Angel McCoughtry was ablaze, scoring 19 of her 33 points in the third quarter.
Then the fourth quarter began with the score tied, and everything changed. The Lynx went on a 13-0 run -- and held Atlanta scoreless for more than four minutes -- to beat the Dream 88-74.
The victory, before 15,258 fans at Target Center, gives the Lynx a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
Guard Lindsay Whalen opened the final quarter with five points to put the Lynx ahead 67-62. She made a layup while bouncing off 6-3 Sandora Irvin and made the ensuing free throw, then sank a 15-foot jumper.
Four different Lynx combined for the next four baskets. By then it was 75-62, and the second-largest crowd in the Lynx's 13-year history was celebrating and roaring.
Atlanta, the league's second-highest-scoring team at 83 points per game, finally got a basket on reserve Courtney Paris' layup with 4 minutes, 16 gone into the fourth quarter.
"It's only one game. There are four games left," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We are excited to bring this excitement to the city, and we will see if we can keep it rolling."
Marynell Meadors, Atlanta's coach, said the Lynx's defense, which set a finals record with 11 blocks, gave her team problems.
"They were very aggressive, they were very physical," Meadors said. "And we didn't hit our shots. And maybe that will change Wednesday" in the second game.
Erika de Souza, a 6-5 center, will rejoin Atlanta after missing the Dream's past three playoff games. De Souza was in Colombia, leading Brazil to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas Championships and qualifying the team for the 2012 Olympics.
"Erika has averaged about 12 to 15 points per game and right around 12 rebounds" in the playoffs, Meadors said, "so that tells you what we miss in her. Her physicality."
Ms. Physicality on Sunday was Rebekkah Brunson. The 6-2 forward for the Lynx scored 26 points, a season high, and had 11 rebounds. She had double-doubles in the Lynx's two double-digit victories over the Dream in June, too.
"We started off a little slow," said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus. "We tried to get the kinks out. It's been four or five days since we played our last game [actually last Sunday]."
In the 13-0 run, Augustus said the Lynx started "creating some havoc and getting turnovers and converting them over into easy baskets."
Whalen, who had 15 points and six assists, said the Lynx kept their poise even when they fell behind by 12 points in the first half.
"We all just said [during a timeout] it's a long game," Whalen said. "Long timeouts, long game. We knew we would make a run back at them.
"There was no time to panic or get frustrated. We were kind of still. We didn't shoot the ball well in the first half. And defensively we weren't quite close enough to shooters as we need to be."
Besides Brunson and Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore also were in double figures. Augustus started 1-for-7 from the field but finished with 22 points and seven assists, and Moore ended with 11 points and six rebounds.
McCoughtry did not get much support except for former Lynx Lindsey Harding, who had 20 points. Iziane Castro Marques had 10, but the other two starters had three combined.
The Lynx are 18-3 at home this season.
One of Reeve's big goals was to have the best record in the WNBA, so her team could have the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Lynx for sure will get one more game at home -- two if the series goes to a fifth game.
"It's fun to be so embraced by the Cities," Moore said.
Winning teams usually are.